Monday, November 06, 2006

With Transformed Ears I Hear A Sneeze Coming

This weekend I put the finishing touches on a radio drama entitled Do You Hear What I Hear?, a comedy with a ridiculous premise: suppose the characters in a radio play understood that their world was created entirely by sound and language, and treated the conventions of storytelling as the laws of physics? Hilarity ensues as a fiendish plot to take over the audio ‘universe’ unfolds. Somebody better find it funny because writing this bastard was a freakin’ nightmare.

By the way, it is now the fashion to refer to it as "audio theatre" since radio drama has been declared dead, notwithstanding the popularity of A Prairie Home Companion. An old conservatory mate who went into audio theatre put me up to submitting a play for an annual competition at an audio theatre festival that takes place in Missouri; he went as far as to put up my entry fee. Writing a play for audio only was a novel experience and I am seeing the world with new ears.

What reveals itself to me is a lot of noise, but on Election Day Eve that is only to be expected. Was I expecting an orderly political conversation between elected representatives and the public? I am not supposed to believe that is possible. I am supposed to shrug off the very idea and consign it to the toy box with all my other childish things. Do not ask for things to be different. The adult thing is to pretend that this is the best we can do: attack ads, political campaigns based on nothing but fictitious claims and lies and smears, incumbents refusing to debate their opponents, and above all: never ever vote outside of the two-party monopoly.

I can't do it. I’m not that good an actor. We are better than that; a whole lot better. The people who wrote this Constitution believed at least in principle that the people deserve to be addressed by their leaders, to be asked for their vote and to engage in political debate in front of them.

Take New York for example, and the Senate race. A war hawk by the name of Hillary Rodham Clinton was challenged for the Democratic nomination for Senate by a fellow Democrat, a Democrat who is upset about the entire Iraq fiasco – like a growing majority of Americans. Clinton refused to debate her opponent, and thus denied voters of her own political party a chance to hear that discussion and participate in a meaningful primary. Predictably enough, Green candidate Howard Hawkins (a Marine who is also upset about Iraq) has not been permitted to debate against the Republican and Democrat candidates in that race. Republican John Spencer and Republican-Lite Hillary Clinton are supporters of the Baghdad Waterloo and Bush's seizure of tyrannical powers. Despite widespread controversy about this illegal war and Bush’s abuse of the Constitution across New York and the entire nation, New York voters don’t get a debate on these issues.

First, everybody should bookmark and check it routinely, especially in an even-numbered year. Armed with information, we need to apply the unsparing wisdom some of us apply to our personal relationships, exemplified by writers like Greg Behrendt, and face the truth: the Democrats and the Republicans are just not that into us. Not only that, they aren’t that into democracy, either. Neither the parties nor the organizations funding them.

Would you let a boyfriend or girlfriend treat you like this? Discount your intelligence, lie to your face, abuse you and your children, sell out your birthright, deny you the right to question them in any meaningful way, and then return to you – like a sneaky lover who comes home at 2:00 am after a late business meeting with no phone call – telling you how wonderful you are and asking for your vote? Would you bullshit yourself into thinking no one better is going to come around and this is the best you can do? The hell you would.

So who is with me on wearing clown noses to the polls tomorrow?

* * *

Just today I learned where the term sabotage comes from. It delights me.

Historically, the Luddites have gotten a bad rap. The lie many of us are taught as children, if we hear about them at all, is that they were against machines or even industrialization itself, so they acted out by wrecking the factories where they worked.

What they were actually doing was protesting unfair working conditions as well as the idea of mass-producing “Grow Or Die, Grow Forever, Grow Grow Grow Eat Eat Eat” capitalism. Machines weren’t the problem, it was the use of them to enclose everything that was once part of a commons.

Dutch unionists and French workers acted out by throwing wooden clog shoes, called sabots in French, into the gears of the machinery. Grind, grind, klunk, klunk, phooey. Voila – sabotage.

What is supposed to be working for whom around here? These machines and the economy they propel are to serve human needs and if they don’t do that, we should wreck them: ram that wooden shoe in there and fuck it all up.

Nah, we don’t do that. We don’t stick shoes in our machines around here. By and large, we don’t even say bad things about the machine.

* * *

An internationally known yoga teacher, one whose enterprise needs no publicity from this blog, has sought to patent his teaching method. His ‘intellectual property’ claim extends to sequences of ancient exercises that have always been held as common. You know, like yoga.

If his claims are ultimately upheld, similar patents could apply to meditation teachers, acting teachers, dance teachers, all of us holding and licensing sequences of exercises or theatre games.

It is likely to happen, I think, in a world that has permitted private ownership of genetic sequences and seeds. As long as we are unwilling to establish checks and balances on profit, it will be profit’s tendency to go on colonizing and finding new territory until every little process in nature is ‘enclosed’ and owned by somebody. It may even be that one day, as Thomas Merton predicted, rain becomes a commodity that is taxed or sold.

In the face of this, how uncomfortable are we willing to be?

Beneath the noise, I hear the planet breathing and its health is fine. She will take care of herself, this planet of ours. There is, however, a sneeze gathering pressure and that sneeze heralds our impending ecological fall from the garden. You see, Earth read Greg Behrendt’s book, too. As long as we are running around soiling our habitat and mowing down the forests and eating up millions of tiny systems that keep life in balance, Earth is going to conclude that we just aren’t that into her.

At which point, she will sneeze and move on.

* * *

And the Lord said, “Gesundheit, child!”


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Algernon, for that absolutely brilliant post. I love the way you decline to pull any punches, yet still keep it all in perspective, just like mother earth does, as you so beautifully reminded us. You, and people like you, are what keep me going.

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Anonymous said...

yes. stated perfectly. earth lives despite us, knows all, reads our books. cogent, wise, and thoughtful post.